Our Ocean Connection: The Challenges, The Cures


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By

Charmaine Coimbra

Dominoes.  It’s like 150 years of stacked dominoes collapsing in four directions from Rugby, North Dakota, North America’s geographical center and from every geographical center of every continent on Planet Earth—with the final dominos landing in every sea that touches every continent.  Collapsing dominoes. That’s how I envision the condition of our seas today.

In other words, our trash, our chemicals, our plastics, over-fishing, and our carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels–even those from each continent’s center–eventually fall into our seas.  One can argue that landfills and dumps hold a substantial amount of our trash and plastics, but carbon emissions drop into the big heat sink—the ocean.

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Marine Debris

NOAA defines marine debris: “Marine debris injures and kills marine life, interferes with navigation safety, and poses a threat to human health. Our oceans and waterways are polluted with a wide variety of marine debris ranging from soda cans and plastic bags to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels.

Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes.

Today, there is no place on Earth immune to this problem. A majority of the trash and debris that covers our beaches comes from storm drains and sewers, as well as from shoreline and recreational activities such as picnicking and beach going. Abandoned or discarded fishing gear is also a major problem because this trash can entangle, injure, maim, and drown marine wildlife and damage property.”

The good news is capitalists, environmentalists, and scientists have joined hand and taken to fishing for solutions to the massive issue of marine debris. The bad news is that other ocean-experts like the chief scientist for the Ocean Conservancy, George Leonard, remains skeptical of any measurable success in marine debris removal, because “nine million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic waste enter the ocean annually and that a solution must include a multi-pronged approach, including stopping plastic from reaching the ocean and more education so people reduce consumption of single use plastic containers and bottles,” according to a 2018 Associated Press report.

Each of us, whether we live or visit inland properties, or by a waterway (all waterways eventually end at the ocean), or by the beach, should grow in mindfulness about our single use plastics. It’s a challenge, to be sure. But we can do this.

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Acidification

“Ocean acidification is essentially the evil twin of climate change, as it is also the consequence of carbon dioxide emissions. About one quarter of the CO2 that we’ve emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by the world’s oceans. When you put CO2 into water, it forms carbonic acid, which in turn drives down the pH of seawater. The challenge is that this is happening globally — as more CO2 goes into the atmosphere, more goes into the ocean…. [and] upsets the chemical balance of carbonate ions, carbonic acid, and CO2, which changes the chemistry that sea creatures work within,” said Paul Bunje a senior scientist for energy and environmental programs at XPRIZE, an awards organization based in Southern California in a KCET interview.

Perhaps inadvertently, Bunje linked our interconnectedness with nature, “All living creatures have an equilibrium of the pH in their blood. If your blood decreased by .2 PH, you would have a condition called acidosis, which is very often fatal. The same is happening with sea creatures.”

This includes not only microscopic sea creatures, but the ones that are popular choices for the dinner plate, like oysters, crabs, lobsters and shrimp. It also impacts coral—perhaps devastating coral.

For reasons like ocean acidification, the call for implementing renewable energy resources as opposed to fossil fuels, which released in 2017 historic high of 32.5 gigatons of global energy-related carbon emissions, is loud and clear.

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Coral

While coral reefs cover less than one-percent of the earth’s surface, these reefs are essential to the ocean’s health, and ours! The reefs, however, have begun to die off from all of the above mentioned assaults on the sea. Coral, is in fact, considered one of the most endangered species on the planet. For example, Staghorn coral (acropora cervicornis), found in the Caribbean, southern Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and the Bahamas was red-listed, meaning critically endangered, in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cause of the 80% decline: warming oceans, acidification, marine debris and a host of other assaults weakening the species.

When we understand that these underwater rainforests are a bonanza not only to marine ecosystems, but to our well being just through the medicine coral provides humankind.

From The Nature Conservancy:

AN UNDERWATER PHARMACY

Science has already developed many medical treatments from resources found in the world’s oceans, for instance:

  • Secosteroids, an enzyme used by corals to protect themselves from disease, is used to treat asthma, arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.
  • Bryozoan Bugula neritina, a common fouling organism (similar to barnacles) that’s found in both temperate and tropical climates, is a source for the anti-cancer compound bryostatin 1. The U.S. National Cancer Institute recently collected more than 26,000 pounds of the organism from docks and pilings with little impact on the population.
  • Blue-green algae, commonly found in Caribbean mangroves, are used to treat small-cell lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute also endorsed blue-green algae for the treatment of melanoma and some tumors.
  • Two drugs currently on the market for cancer and pain come from marine sources. Twenty-five more marine-derived medicines are being evaluated in human trials right now.

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Warming Oceans

With a stream of headlines “Warmest Year on Record,” be assured that warming not only includes temperatures around our homes, but the oceans, as well. While there is nothing as nice as a swim in a warm tropical sea, an increasingly warm ocean impacts, coral, melts sea ice, changes sea life habitat as different species seek cooler waters and move north, and most alarming of all, sucks oxygen from the water. Warming waters increase the strength of storms forming over the ocean.

Greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane are directly attributed to warming seas.

In the good news category, countries like Germany have expedited hydrogen-fuel trains, andcities around the world use hydrogen-powered fuel-cell buses.

“The Hydrogen Council, which features the likes of Honda, Hyundai, and Royal Dutch Shell, among others, is readying itself to sell the idea of hydrogen as a key participant in the climate change battle. The ambition is backed by a commitment to invest in the development and commercialisation of hydrogen and fuels cells,” writes Ship Technology.

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Other Issues

Other falling dominoes include hypoxia (also closely related to acidification) along our shorelines, mostly caused by farmland drainage into creeks, rivers and eventually the ocean. This includes a toxic mix of chemicals and animal waste. If you ever witnessed fish in a home aquarium grow sickly and die, it’s often from hypoxia — an oxygen deficiency in a biotic environment.

Over-fishing in an effort to feed a hungry world makes for empty wallets of hard-working fishermen, and an imbalance of life beneath the sea.

“As a result of prolonged and widespread overfishing, nearly a third of the world’s assessed fisheries are now in deep trouble – and that’s likely an underestimate, since many fisheries remain unstudied,” says the Environmental Defense Fund.

Marine sanctuaries, education, an incentives to follow rules for sustainable seafood, are and will make a difference.

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So while the climate change subject batters about in political debate, the proof is in the plasticky-pudding, or your local plastic-polluted ocean.

We can make a difference right now.

  • Reduce energy use
  • End using one-use plastic bags and containers
  • Recycle
  • Support clean energy sources
  • Clean trash from waterways and beaches
  • Use less fertilizer
  • Choose sustainable seafood on your plate
  • Consume less beef, pork and poultry
  • Use less chemicals for cleaning

Nature is resilient, but it requires our attention.

—From a work in progress, Connection — 48 Natural Contemplations

by  Charmaine Coimbra



Categories: Climate Change, Coastal Clean-Up, Commentary, Condition of Oceans, Coral Reefs, Hypoxia, Illegal Fishing, nature, Ocean acidification, Spirituality and Nature, Sustainable Seafood, Warming Oceans

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